Torchwood: The Complete Original UK Series Review

There’s no denying that BBC’s Dr. Who was and remains something of a television phenomenon, and to the credit of Russell T. Davies and Julie Gardner, the duo responsible for its 2005 return, it just might have an equally worthwhile spin-off inTorchwood, the series based on the adventures of the undying Captain Jack Harkness. With Torchwood now going into its fourth season as a joint venture between the BBC and Starz, BBC has released the first three UK series as a complete Blu-ray set. When watched as a three season series it’s easy to see how production values and character development increased dramatically with its progression, and the fact of the matter is that Children of Earth was a superb endpoint for the BBC run. Torchwood looks beautiful in high-definition and only ever falters when it attempts to do too much in the special effects department, but the series found a way around it and focused instead on some strong stories about fleshed out characters in over their heads.

The first season sees the recruitment of Policewoman Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) into the covert organization Torchwood, an agency charged with defending planet earth from aliens and monsters the arrive on the planet via rifts in space and time. Welcoming Gwen to the team are the immortal, ex-Time Agent and reformed conman Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), staff doctor Owen Harper (Burn Gorman), tech wiz Toshiko “Tosh” Sato (Naoko Mori), and the loyal Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd). Though the initial episodes play a lot like the first half of Men in Black (with Eve attempting to reconcile what she sees on her job with her preconceived notions of the world), what follows is a series of adventures cyberwomen, cannibals, sentient gas beings that devour sexual energy, and the gradual revelations of Captain Jack’s past.

In the second season, Torchwood goes to a whole new level and it achieves a level of storytelling that the first just couldn’t match. It starts off with a bang and just speeds ahead. The relationship between Gwen and her husband-to-be Rhys (Kai Owen) is put to the test when he learns of Torchwood’s real purpose, and at the same time Ianto learns more and more about Captain Jack’s history and deals with the effects it has on their in-office romance. All of this occurs as Gwen’s nuptials approach, Jack’s former-lover (James Marsters) returns, Owen discovers life after death, and the season finale that proves Torchwood’s writers know how to handle their characters.

Children of Earth, the five-episode mini-series aired on back-to-back nights in 2009, once again takes Torchwood to new territory by expanding the show from a monster-of-the-week format with an overarching plot, to a large-scale political thriller with a Sci-Fi twist. As aliens announce their presence to humanity by broadcasting a message through the planet’s children, the British government realizes that a decision from their past has made them the focus of the extraterrestrial’s attention and begin a clandestine operation to rid themselves of the threat and destroy any and all evidence that they knew this was coming (i.e. Torchwood). With Torchwood HQ destroyed and the team on the run from a squad of deadly assassins, Captain Jack, Gwen, Rhys, and Ianto must figure out the link between Jack and the aliens before the British government makes an unthinkable decision.

The stories of Torchwood take backseat to the characters and the witty banter that passes between them. Creating an immortal character like Captain Jack is always a tricky concept as it eliminates a lot of the potential suspense that comes with knowing a character’s life could be in danger. However, they’ve written in enough conditions to his inevitable survival so that his return from the dead is never so much a cheap trick as it is a running gag. Combine that with his charisma and the way the other actor’s play off of him, and Torchwood’s central cast (from start to finish) always manages to keep an interesting dynamic. The addition of Kai Owen (as Gwen’s husband Rhys) to the main cast in Children of Earth was a long time coming and adds a badly needed sense of cynicism that departures in the second season took away from the show, and Kai’s particular brand folds seamlessly into the group.

The HD presentation of Torchwood only has drawbacks in the first season when the special effects were a lot rougher (although the final episode of the first season had a great CGI monstrosity). After that, it’s hard to complain about the series on Blu-ray, and by the time you reach the brilliantly filmed Children of Earth, the set makes it clear why it should be seen in as pristine a format as possible.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

The set is packed, including all of the original extras from the Blu-ray releases for the individual season/series sets. The two recurring extras on nearly every disc are the audio commentaries that feature crew, cast and guest stars for the disc’s respective episodes and the “Torchwood Declassified” series which examines certain plot points, scenes, props, or characters from specific episodes. It should be noted, that for all but the last disc of the second season, “Torchwood Declassified” segments are the only extras to be found on each disc. However once you get to the last disc, you get a great outtake reel, deleted scenes, and a featurette on the lives and deaths of Captain Jack as revealed in the various episodes’ flashbacks.

Getting back to the first season, there are a few other recurring featurettes “Torchwood Out of This World”, “Moments in the Making”, and “The Team and Their Troubles”. Finally, in the first season set, you have the unique extras: “Torchwood: Sex, Violence, Blood and Gore” which touches on the series as a more mature counterpart to Dr. Who with adult concepts; “Torchwood on the Scene”; “The Captain’s Log”; “Torchwood on Time”; and finally some deleted scenes and an outtakes reel. Unfortunately, the Children of Earth discs are comparatively sparse with a single, albeit considerably longer, “Torchwood Declassified” installment as the only extra.

"Torchwood: The Complete Original UK Series" is on sale July 19, 2011 and is not rated. Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi. Directed by Andy Goddard, Ashley Way, Bill Gierhart, Colin Teague, Euros Lyn. Written by Russell T. Davis, Chris Chibnall, Jane Espenson, Catherine Tregenna. Starring Burn Gorman, Eve Myles, Gareth David Lloyd, John Barrowman, Kai Owen, Naoko Mori.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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